What is a tulip?
Tulips (Tulipa), of the lily family Liliaceae, are among the most popular garden and florists' flowers. They are native to temperate parts of the Old world, especially regions of dry summers. The number of species is estimated to be about one hundred and fifty, and there are many hundreds of varieties, mostly hybrids of garden origin. The name is a Latinized derivitive of the Arabic dulban (a turban).
Tulips are hardy, deciduous, spring-flowering perennials with bulbs clothed in thin, usually brown skins and generally tapered to a pointed apex. The leaves are basal, but a few smaller ones, diminishing in size upward, sprout from usually rather fleshy, erect stems.
The flowers are cup-, saucer-, or somewhat urn-shaped, but some spread their petals widely on sunny days to form a star like pattern.There are also double flowered varieties. Tulip blooms have six perianth segments, commonly called petals, but more correctly identified as tepals. There are six separate stamens and sometimes one style. The fruits are many-seeded capsules.
The tulips that attracted so much attention when first brought from Constantinople to Europe were not wild species, but a few of the many hundreds of horticultural varieties developed in Persia and Turkey from the late 1400's on. A phenomenon called "breaking" did much to stimulate the tremendous interest in tulips before, during, and following the tuliponmania extravagance of Holland in the 17th century. Breaking is in fact a virus that affects only tulips and lilies and causes a streaking of colors in the flower.
Courtesy of the NYBG Plant Information Service